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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The demise of Nex Benedict: We nonetheless don’t know what occurred

Editor’s word, March 13, 5:30 pm: On March 13, the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s workplace launched a part of a report saying Nex Benedict’s demise was a suicide, an overdose attributable to a mix of diphenhydramine (generally generally known as Benadryl) and fluoxetine (generally, Prozac). For extra on the main points of the case and the circumstances that preceded his demise, learn our authentic story, printed March 6, under.

We all know a gender-nonconforming teen in an Oklahoma highschool is useless. We don’t know a lot else.

Nex Benedict didn’t have an extended and troubled historical past with the ladies who fought with him the day earlier than his demise on February 8. In line with his grandmother and adoptive guardian, Nex had drawn bullies and harassment for the reason that begin of his sophomore 12 months at Owasso Excessive Faculty West within the fall. These ladies, nevertheless, barely knew Nex.

Nex was an Indigenous 16-year-old scholar residing in Owasso, Oklahoma. At residence, he advised his household he was nonbinary and used they/them pronouns; at college, he additionally used he/him pronouns and advised a former accomplice that he was trans.

He has been described as a whip-smart straight-A scholar, a gifted artist who beloved animals, particularly his cat, Zeus. He had a supportive boyfriend who Nex helped come out to his mother and father. He beloved enjoying Minecraft and favored to make up recipes within the kitchen. Associates known as him “adventurous” and “fiery.”

After a lot harassment, that fiery temperament might have led him to face up for himself. Lower than 24 hours later, Nex Benedict can be useless.

The response of the native and state authorities to his demise — together with complicated statements by the Owasso Police Division on the trigger — has pushed each Nex and Oklahoma into the nationwide dialog. The weeks since Benedict died have been a storm of rampant misinformation, irritating non-answers from authorities, and distracting aspect discussions in regards to the political extremists who’ve glommed onto the talk. The incident has additionally introduced elevated scrutiny of Benedict’s faculty district from the Division of Schooling, which introduced on March 1 that it might be launching an investigation into whether or not the varsity violated Benedict’s nondiscrimination rights underneath Title IX.

All of it quantities to a harrowing dialog about this period of aggressive anti-trans sentiment, and the true trans children who’re paying the fee.

Nex Benedict’s demise occurred after an incident in a faculty rest room

On the afternoon of February 7, Benedict was taking part in a faculty disciplinary program alongside three first-year ladies. Although they barely knew one another, Benedict mentioned the ladies engaged in mocking him and his pals “due to the way in which that we gown.” He defined this in an interview with a faculty useful resource officer later that day, captured on police bodycam footage that has since been launched to the general public.

As the ladies entered a ladies’s rest room — which Benedict was legally required to make use of because of a 2022 Oklahoma legislation requiring public faculty college students to make use of the restroom for the intercourse they had been assigned at start — Benedict threw water at them from a water bottle he was carrying.

In response, Benedict mentioned the three ladies began bodily attacking him, grabbing his hair. After Benedict shoved one of many assailants right into a towel dispenser, “they obtained my legs out from underneath me, obtained me on the bottom, and began beating the shit out of me,” he advised the officer.

Nex Benedict

The assault was so violent that Benedict says he “blacked out.” Sue Benedict, Benedict’s grandmother and adoptive dad or mum, later mentioned he was left lined in bruises. Regardless of Benedict allegedly being knocked unconscious, and regardless of surveillance video displaying him showing to sway on his ft whereas strolling, nobody at Owasso known as for medical companies or police “per district protocols” — a undeniable fact that reportedly left Sue Benedict “livid.” As an alternative, faculty directors suspended Benedict for 2 weeks. It’s unknown whether or not the ladies acquired comparable punishment; the varsity’s assertion harassed that “any notion that the district has ignored disciplinary motion towards these concerned is solely unfaithful.”

The college later launched a assertion stating that the entire events concerned “walked underneath their very own energy” to the nurse’s workplace, the place they had been examined and cleared by the nurse. The nurse did, nevertheless, recommend that Benedict voluntarily endure a extra thorough medical examination.

Later that day, Sue Benedict took him to a hospital and summoned an officer to attempt to provoke expenses of assault in opposition to Benedict’s attackers. Faculty useful resource officer Caleb Thompson discouraged Benedict from pursuing the case, telling him that by throwing the water on the ladies, he “basically began it … it’s a mutual battle.” Sue Benedict then declined to press expenses. (The Owasso Police Division didn’t return a request for remark.)

“I obtained jumped at college 3 on 1,” Benedict texted a relative later. “[I] needed to go to the ER… if I’m nonetheless dizzy and nauseous within the morning I may need a concussion.”

The following morning, Sue Benedict positioned a name to 911, stating that Benedict had fallen unconscious and seemed to be “posturing,” exhibiting involuntary motions that may point out mind trauma. Benedict returned to the hospital however was pronounced useless quickly after arrival.

From that second on, questions on what truly occurred to Benedict, who he was, and what may or ought to have been executed to guard him solely grew louder.

The circumstances of Benedict’s demise are as complicated as they’re angering

Initially, everybody from members of the family to media retailers contributed to confusion in regards to the fundamental details of Benedict’s life: what his title was, how he recognized, which pronouns he used, what his Indigenous heritage was. A number of media stories have described Benedict as two-spirit, which is a conventional Indigenous idea that describes a 3rd nonbinary gender; it’s unclear, nevertheless, that Benedict recognized as two-spirit.

Threats had been made in opposition to the varsity; Benedict’s household made a plea in opposition to being bullied. And with no health worker’s report or toxicology outcomes forthcoming practically a month later, the most important supply of uncertainty and battle stays: What truly induced Benedict’s demise?

Officers did provoke a proper investigation into Benedict’s demise, executing a search warrant on the faculty on February 9 and gathering written statements from faculty officers. Regardless of stating to the Unbiased that “all expenses will probably be on the desk” for Benedict’s assailants as soon as a explanation for demise was confirmed, the Owasso police launched a follow-up assertion on February 21 that appeared to strongly insinuate that Benedict’s demise was unconnected to the battle.

“Whereas the investigation continues into the altercation,” the report acknowledged, “preliminary info from the health worker’s workplace is {that a} full post-mortem was carried out and indicated that the decedent didn’t die on account of trauma … additional feedback on the reason for demise are at the moment pending till toxicology outcomes and different ancillary testing outcomes are acquired.”

In an interview with Common Info, Owasso Police Division Public Info Officer Nick Boatman additional clarified that the health worker had “emphasised they’re ready for toxicology,” which he took as a “crimson flag,” and that he was “assuming once I get that [toxicology report] again, one thing’s going to be there.” The police later clarified that the battle has not been dominated out as a explanation for demise.

In response to the broadly held notion that Benedict was a sufferer of anti-queer and anti-trans bullying and violence, communities throughout the nation have held vigils for Benedict.

On February 26, a bunch of Owasso college students — estimates ranged from 20 to over 40 — walked out of sophistication to protest the bullying that preceded Benedict’s demise. They had been joined by neighborhood members and college students from different colleges. Previous to the protest, mother and father had been knowledgeable that college students who participated within the walkout can be marked absent from courses until they acquired written permission from a dad or mum to take part.

Questions linger about how a lot bullying Benedict endured, and why Owasso Excessive Faculty didn’t present extra concern for Benedict after an altercation during which his head was slammed in opposition to the ground. In an emailed assertion, Jordan Korphage, the director of communications for Owasso Public Colleges, advised Vox that the district “take[s] stories of bullying very significantly” and that “all reported bullying accusations are investigated by directors on the faculty website during which they happen, and are reviewed by the district’s Director of Security and Safety.” Korphage mentioned the varsity had no data of earlier incidents between these college students previous to February 7 and added, “To the district’s data, there have been no reported bullying incidents by Nex or on Nex’s behalf in the course of the 2023-2024 faculty 12 months.”

Out of a perception that Benedict endured gender-based discrimination, the Human Rights Marketing campaign filed a criticism in opposition to the Owasso faculty district with the DOE, which subsequently introduced on March 1 that it might be investigating the varsity. In a assertion to NBC Information, a spokesperson for the varsity district known as the allegation “with out benefit.”

The investigation factors towards the bigger nationwide dialog about trans children — and the larger query of whether or not, as a substitute of defending everybody else from college students like Nex Benedict, it’s time to battle to guard children like Nex from everybody else.

Nex Benedict lived as a trans child in a state that legally ostracized him

Since 2022, Oklahoma has been on the forefront of a wave of anti-trans laws geared toward blocking trans folks from well being care entry, forcing transgender college students to make use of bogs and locker rooms that don’t align with their identification, criminalizing gender-affirming well being care, and stopping trans folks from legally figuring out as their right gender.

A 2023 evaluation by a state watchdog group discovered that state legislators had “launched 40 payments limiting LGBTQ Oklahomans’ healthcare entry, inclusion in colleges and choices for self-expression this legislative session.” This 12 months, that quantity is even increased: a staggering 54 paymentsthe very best within the nation.

The ostensible objective of those legal guidelines is to withstand what Oklahoma training superintendent Ryan Walters has known as “radical gender concept.” However the impact is undoubtedly the cultural and literal erasure of trans folks.

The double customary this atmosphere creates might be each weird and arduous to fathom in its cruelty. In June 2023, the Oklahoma Division of Schooling, underneath Walters, launched a YouTube video titled “Defending College students from Leftist Social Experiments by Upholding the Regulation.”

The video’s topic — as advised via the emotionally incendiary use of edited information footage, interviews, and inventory footage of a scared-looking little lady — is the alleged assault of a cis lady by a trans lady, who was misgendered all through the video. The video portrayed the trans lady as a violent predatory male who wanted to be saved out of ladies’ bogs for the protection of cisgender ladies.

Up to now, Walters has mentioned nothing about defending trans kids from violence directed at them by cisgender teenagers. As an alternative, although calling Benedict’s demise a tragedy, he advised ABC he needs “the main target to be on the fundamentals and training,” insisting he “won’t play woke gender video games, [and] won’t again right down to a woke mob.” (Walters’ workplace didn’t reply to a request for remark.)

Walters’s anti-trans insurance policies and much more anti-trans rhetoric have been the main target of ongoing backlash. On February 28, a whole bunch of state and nationwide activist teams known as for his resignation, arguing he had “foster[ed] a tradition of violence and hate in opposition to the 2SLGBTQI+ neighborhood in Oklahoma colleges.”

In his most controversial transfer, Walters appointed anti-trans MAGA influencer Chaya Raichik to serve on a media advisory committee for the Oklahoma faculty library system; Raichik is the creator behind the anti-LGBTQ Libs of TikTok social media accounts. (Raichik shouldn’t be an Oklahoma resident and advised the Washington Put up she has solely visited the state as soon as.)

Previous to this appointment, Raichik used her infamous social media presence to focus on lecturers at numerous Oklahoma colleges, accusing them of spreading a “woke” liberal agenda, often concerning help for queer and trans teenagers.

These included certainly one of Benedict’s former lecturers, Tyler Wrynn. After Wrynn posted a video message of help for queer and genderqueer college students to his TikTok web page in 2022, Raichik amplified it and began a viral pile-on. Wrynn subsequently resigned — however not earlier than receiving demise threats and accusations of “grooming” kids.

Benedict, who had been certainly one of Wrynn’s college students, was reportedly “very offended” about Raichik’s concentrating on of his instructor. (Wrynn spoke at a February 25 vigil for Nex.)

Following Benedict’s demise, some native officers had been outraged at Raichik for her position in stoking anti-trans violence of their neighborhood. For her half, Raichik advised the Washington Put up that Benedict’s demise was “horrible,” but in addition repeatedly misgendered him, described gender variance as “a psychological sickness,” and spoke of eager to “eradicate gender ideology from public life.” (Raichik didn’t reply to a request for remark.)

This rhetoric, which essentially questions the suitable of trans folks to exist, has arguably contributed to a deeply poisonous political atmosphere not simply in Oklahoma however throughout the nation — one during which anti-LGBTQ bigotry is more and more changing into accepted coverage. Whereas some Republican lawmakers would possibly categorical sympathy towards victims like Benedict, their occasion’s political machine is actively engaged, each at a nationwide and state-by-state degree, in taking away even essentially the most fundamental protections for queer and trans children.

State Sen. Tom Woods admitted as a lot throughout a February 23 city discussion board, when he took time to answer Benedict’s demise within the worst approach — by repeatedly referring to Benedict and different LGBTQ folks as “filth.”

“We’re a Republican state — supermajority — within the Home and Senate. I symbolize a constituency that doesn’t need that filth in Oklahoma,” Woods mentioned.

“After I heard the information of Nex Benedict … I discovered the information predictable and inevitable,” former Oklahoma instructor Tyger Songbird wrote for information journal LGBTQNation. “The tradition and local weather that Republicans have fomented, the place politicians days after Nex’s passing name LGBTQ+ folks filth, helped precipitate such a tragedy.” Songbird resigned his place in 2022 after realizing “that hate was going to win.”

“That is all regardless of proof displaying that trans teen suicide threat dramatically reduces with the liberty to transition and dwell of their gender identification,” he wrote. “This all is occurring regardless of proof displaying that simply having one supportive instructor and educator reduces suicide makes an attempt by LGBTQ+ teenagers by 40%.” The truth that Benedict was additionally certainly one of North America’s susceptible Indigenous college students meant that his victimology was much more sophisticated.

In different phrases, Oklahoma’s dismantling of authorized protections for trans college students and their allies is actively placing them in danger. We nonetheless don’t know what killed Nex Benedict — however no matter it was, there’s no query that life was fraught for Nex and different college students like him. If you enact “measures designed to crack down on the lives and well-being of trans children,” as my former colleague Emily St. James wrote in 2022, “you create an atmosphere the place trans children undergo … If these measures are carried out, plenty of trans folks will needlessly die.”

In the present day, the loss is that this: a vibrant teen whom family and friends described as humorous, powerful, and endlessly sort. If solely being human had been sufficient to guard a susceptible baby from a system that’s decided to erase them.

“Greater than something, I want he would stroll again into class and all the things can be regular once more,” one Owasso scholar mentioned at Nex’s vigil. “Though I’ve watched them be buried, I search for them wherever I’m going.”

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